Can Jeff Sessions Use the Cole Memo to Undermine Legal Marijuana States?

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Although we have written often about the Obama-era Cole Memo which, in another lifetime, Attorney General Jeff Sessions called “valuable” and “valid,” the situation is very different now as he attempts to use the memo to go after legal weed.

As such, it is important to look closely at the Cole Memo and how to protect it from the chaotic and vindictive White House, where daily outrages and civil rights violations are the norm.

The Cole Memo, written by Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole in 2013, basically contends that weed businesses need not worry about federal prosecution as long as they comply with state law, making it a critical document in the legal marijuana industry.

As states began to legalize recreational weed, the federal government continued to uphold the DEA’s classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug, federally illegal. So the question became, how do the feds crack down on legal weed without violating the rights of citizens who voted for it?

This is the conundrum that faces AG Jeff Sessions, who wants to crack down not only on recreational weed but medical marijuana as well. To get around it, he has begun a campaign of accusing legal weed states of violating the Cole Memo.

Sessions launched his attack recently in the form of a letter-writing campaign, accusing the governors and attorneys general of Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska of not being in compliance with the memo.

However, Sessions has his facts all wrong. His scolding letters, demanding details on how each state has been adhering to the Cole Memo were full of “outdated incomplete and unreliable data,” according to Washington State Governor Jay Inslee.

“If we can engage in a more direct dialogue, we might avoid this sort of miscommunication and make progress on the issues that are important to both of us,” Inslee and Washington State’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson wrote to Sessions.

As leaders in legal states defend their efforts to regulate the industry, it’s good to keep in mind exactly what the Cole Memo can and can’t do as it is under attack by the Trump administration.

The Cole memo requires that states enact and undertake a regulatory framework that tracks marijuana from seed to sale; prevent sales to minors; prevent distribution to states where it is illegal; and prevent marijuana from being grown or possessed on public land. More obvious regulations include ensuring that marijuana is not a cover for other legal drug activities, that firearms are not involved in the industry and that weed profits do not go to criminal organizations.

Governors from the four legal states of Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska have asked to meet in person with Sessions to discuss the perceived violations to the Cole Memo that he insists are occurring.

So far, the attorney general has declined their offers and seemingly prefers to hurl his accusations through emails and letters.

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